Thriving in a smarter digital world: Ten strategies for success

The competition rulebook that governed known markets has been ripped apart by digital transformation — the catch-all phrase for the rapid technological evolution and explosion in information that has disrupted how we all do business. Audiences are connected, informed, opinioned, and fluid. Scale is no longer determined by budgets, but by reach to available assets. Data has become the new capital.   

By failing to adapt to this change and create the skills to manage it, businesses get blindsided by ever-changing context. Their differentiation, their value, their return to shareholders decreases as they struggle to meet the shifting expectations of customers and markets. No business today operates without data, but few are truly leveraging that asset to produce digital outcomes in a sustainable way.   

The last five years in enterprise have been characterised by assembling new technical components and shifting priorities. One year was focused on building a first-generation app, the next year on figuring out how to integrate social media into customer services. Big data clusters came online only to be followed by computational toolkits to refine, mine, and search them for actionable insights. Unfortunately, in many cases, the additional investments have led to mission creep and resource sprawl rather than an integrated and holistic strategy for business transformation.   

With leadership positions up for grabs and unprecedented competition, it is imperative for businesses to get “smart.” While the pace of technical innovation has remained steady, the distraction from multiple streams has heightened complexity. It is high time to shift from chasing to winning. Now is the moment to leverage intelligence in the enterprise and start seizing return on digital investment.   

Ten Tips for Doing Digital Smarter 

1. Interconnect a best-of-breed ecosystem 

Digital intelligence requires interconnectivity from the core of the enterprise to the endpoints where employees, suppliers, partners, and customers interact and engage. Smart digital organisations build from existing investment in enterprise applications and coordinate expansion with open source software, cloud-based applications, powerful analytics engines, and the like. Focus always on reliability, scalability, and security. Interconnectivity is the glue that holds a digital enterprise together. 

2. Move effortlessly between past, future, and present 

Powerful analytic capabilities are table stakes for today’s digital enterprise. The ability to generate insights from, and act upon, an exponentially expanding collection of customer and operational data is critical for setting overall business strategy and making ongoing tactical adjustments. Understanding patterns from the past to best predict and optimise for the future is well understood and mathematically sound. An even more compelling analytics endeavor is generating the capacity to capture, contextualise, and apply what is happening in the precise moment of decision making. While predictive models provide an overall game plan, contextual analytics produce models that adjust in real time, thus magnifying their impact and stacking the deck in your favour. 

3. Focus on how customer value is created and sustained 

Determine the precise means of long-term value creation. Too many customer KPIs result in a dilution of effort. Focus on only three to five measures of success to apply digital technology in ways that result in the greatest impact. Smart digital organisations develop key metrics, establish baselines of performance, and rigorously align their strategies, systems, processes, and cultures around those KPIs.   

4. Embrace speed over perfection 

While the notion of less-than-perfect makes some uncomfortable, the pace of change in technology and customer desire for continual advancement allows intelligent companies the leeway to misfire occasionally if they maintain their pace of innovation, correct course as they go, and are transparent with their customers. The cost of a misstep is also a benefit in the lesson learned, and concrete feedback from the market is infinitely more valuable than any insight gleaned from cycle upon cycle of focus groups. 

5. Expand your definition of the customer journey 

Digital transformation is most obvious in customer experience impact from innovations that address very obvious pain points in everyday activities: hailing a cab, pricing a holiday, buying music, negotiating an unfamiliar neighbourhood. While many marketers and technologists think about a customer journey in a relatively closed loop — from awareness to consideration to trial to purchase — the concept of journey mapping can serve as the basis for defining longer-term paths to enhanced customer loyalty. Smart digital technologies allow marketers to more precisely define various steps in multiple journeys by customer type or persona, to set and monitor KPIs at logical inflection points of those journeys, and to sense circumstantial changes that indicate a migration to a different path or a warrant a recovery effort to draw customers back on track. 

6. Augment intelligence   

With so much focus on digitalisation and machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s hard to know where human abilities remain most relevant. Humans are curious and insightful students of behaviour, posers of creative hypotheses, and designers of experiments that change the world. Augmenting human skills and intelligence via technology is the smart move. This requires using discovery tools built for human consumption, which allow us to easily question our data to deepen our expertise. Augmented intelligence means applying human insight to impactful action in complex data-intensive environments at incredible speeds. 

7. Optimise through continuous automated experimentation 

Test and learn and adapt. The simple idea of setting up experiments that compare statistically relevant samples against two or more alternatives was a core element of business well before the digital revolution. But the amount of data that we now produce and consume necessitates expanding how we view experimentation, analysis, and speedy application of results. This is the perfect arena for machine learning. Smart organisations automate and multiply their experiments, shorten cycles of observation, capture impact, and directly apply winning combinations on a segment-by-segment (or customer-by-customer) basis.  

8. Hire and nurture digital talent 

Employees with digital talent are hard to find, but worth prizing, as they combine excellence in four critical skills. First, they understand and can apply the core fundamentals of technologies toward compelling solutions. Second, they have strong business acumen (allowing them to define the context of an opportunity and project the impact of an action on business KPIs). Third, they apply data-driven insight to decision making, exhibiting analytic prowess. Finally, they work comfortably within complex organisations, communicate effectively, and contribute to a productive culture. 

9. Quantify the impact of change, learn from the failures, and share the wins 

The need for continual analysis goes beyond customer or operational analytics. The smart organisation must create a framework for measuring financial returns, establish and collect the data required to determine the impact of digital investment, and impart those results to key stakeholders to perpetuate success and generate funds for future investment. Equally important is the willingness to communicate how the organisation learns from efforts that do not deliver and how those lessons impact the next iteration. As with customers, internal transparency is a necessary characteristic of a smart digital organisation. When the wins come in, genuine trust in that success and the momentum it breeds drive the pace of innovation. 

10. Lead through commitment 

Smart digital business begins with committed leadership. Without vision and unqualified dedication to each of the components — an interconnected enterprise, a belief in data-driven facts and their implications, a willingness to speed the cycles of innovation despite risk, a passion for continuous improvement, and an investment in outstanding and well-rounded employees — sustainable digital transformation will not be realised. A smart digital organisation requires smart leadership, there is no way an enterprise can be successful in its transformation without it.   

David Rosen, Digital Transformation Technologist and Strategist, TIBCO Software 

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